Latest data contain some noteworthy changes and some hidden figures
(Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
The latest data show that North Carolina’s voter rolls continue to grow at a steady pace. However, because a growing number of voters do not designate their race, in some ways we know less about today’s voters than in the past.
Overall, the state has seen a net increase of almost 1 million voters since October 2015. This figure accounts for deaths and other removals, as well as the addition of new young voters, new state residents, and a surge of previously unengaged, pro-Trump registrants — especially white Republicans.
The numbers cited below come from the State Board of Elections:
High growth among the young and old
While the total number of registered voters has increased by 15% since October 2015, but two age groups outpaced that uptick: The number of voters ages 18-25 increased by 27% and those 66 and older jumped by 34%.
In fact, nearly half the net gain in registrations (430,000 out of 966,000) were voters over 65, including formerly unengaged seniors and Baby Boomers.
Significantly, more than a quarter of the additional young voters (52,000 out of 203,000) identified themselves as Hispanic/Latino on registration forms. Meanwhile, the number of self-identifying Black voters aged 18 to 25 has declined by 7% since 2015.
Disappearing race information
However, huge numbers of new registrations — including those coming in from the DMV (either online or on site), voter registration drives and other sources — do not include information about the race, ethnicity or gender of the new voter.
More than 638,000 registered voters – or 9% of all voters today – have not designated their race, which represents a fourfold increase from the 155,000 for whom that information was absent in 2015.
Almost 15% of registrants aged 18-25 listed no race for themselves, which explains why the number of young Black voters seems to have declined but actually did not. Because of this massive gap in information, the Board of Elections’s data in subgroups by race must be viewed as very rough if not misleading.
For example, the data show the number of Black Democrats and white Democrats declined from 2015 to 2023. But those numbers are distorted because so many new Democrats are not designating a race. That said, the relatively large decline in white Democrats is revealing. Similarly, the significant increases shown for Asian-American voters and for “mixed” or “other race” voters reveal important changes since 2015, but the numbers undercount what are likely even larger gains.
The State Board of Elections includes an “ethnicity” category that’s separate from “race” on registration forms, so new registrants can check a box to identify as Hispanic/Latino in addition to what they indicate for race. But DMV records have just one category, with Hispanic/Latino included as one of several race choices.
As a consequence, registrations at a DMV site or linked to a DMV record via an online application will be uploaded into the State Board’s voter file in the following manner:
- If the DMV registrant checks Hispanic/Latino, then “HL” becomes the voter’s ethnicity and their race is “U” for Undesignated;
- If they indicate a different race choice, then that becomes their race in the voter file and their ethnicity is UN or Undesignated.
Considering these factors, it’s clear that the number of Hispanic/Latino voters has more than doubled in eight years. They now comprises 4% of all voters, up from 2% in 2015.
The gender gap
For many decades, women have outnumbered men on North Carolina’s registration rolls, with the gap especially large in the Black community because of the disenfranchising intent and impact of the state’s carceral system.
In 2015, 53.5% of registered voters were women, 45% were men, and 1.5% did not designate their gender.
Today, 50% are women, 42.4% are men, and 7.6% have no gender designation. Based on self-designation, the registration gap between men and women is narrowing slightly for white voters, but not among Black voters.
No party and minor party affiliation
In the past eight years, Democrats have lost a net of 208,000 members — especially new Obama voters who failed to vote after 2016 and conservative Democrats who switched to Unaffiliated or something else.
Meanwhile Republicans have gained 264,000 members since October 2015.
By far however, most new voters are choosing no party affiliation. The number of Unaffiliated voters has increased by 884,000 in eight years to the current total of 2,674,000 – which exceeds the total for Democrats or Republicans.
Affiliating with the Green Party or No Labels Party was not even a choice in 2015. Those parties’ numbers are still quite small, but they will be able to put candidates on everyone’s ballot in a general election. Libertarians have nearly doubled in number to 50,000.
Given that some statewide races have been decided by much smaller numbers in recent years, it remains quite possible that minor party candidates could attract enough votes to tip some high-profile races.
This story has been updated.